I have a lot of nightmares and have a hard time getting out of the fear and/or dissociation when I wake up. It is hard to either fall back asleep or to get up and get on with my day. So, this is the plan I came up with after some suggestions from my therapist.
My plan has suggestions of things to try that will probably actually help me. It also has pictures of me doing them, so that it’s easier to figure out how to do them when my brain is slow.
- Ice dive
- Drink water
- Play catch
- STUN wave (Sensations, Thoughts, Urges, Name the emotion)
- Listen to music
- Paced breathing (in-2-3-4, hold-2-3-4, out-2-3-4, hold-2-3-4)
- Go for a walk (go to the bathroom, go outside, pace in room, stretch/yoga/ballet)
- Ground in present (5-4-3-2-1 senses, colors of the rainbow)
- “All emotions are valid.”
- “It makes sense that I am feeling this way, given my life experiences.”
- “It’s okay to feel strong emotions.”
- “Something scary happened to me, and it makes sense that being reminded of that would be scary, too.”
- “I am feeling ___.” (scared, sad, angry, happy, loving, shameful, guilty, envious, jealous, disgusted)
- “I had a nightmare.”
- “It was intense and very scary.”
- “And, in this moment, I am safe.”
I tried this last night, and the ice dive followed by paced breathing and listening to music or calming sounds seemed to help. Identifying that I was feeling fear also helped.
An ice dive, if you haven’t heard of it, is a way of getting your heart rate to slow down (and therefore making your anxiety come down a bit) pretty quickly by making your face very cold. It’s a way of hacking your evolutionary reflexes. Your body thinks you just fell into an icy river, so it brings down your heart rate.
You can simulate diving into an icy river by sticking your face in a bowl of ice water for 10-20 seconds a few times. Making a bowl of ice water is too much effort and thinking for me when I’m coming out of a nightmare, so I do the ice dive differently.
I keep instant ice packs near my bed and just crack one and hold it over my eyes while lying in bed. It calms me down fairly quickly. A slowed heart rate also helps me to fall asleep! I also keep ice packs with me during the day and try to use them when I am having a flashback, anxiety attack, or am just feeling intense fear and having a hard time calming down.
Ice dives are a part of the “Temperature” component of the TIPP DBT skill. TIPP stands for Temperature, Intense Exercise, Paced breathing, and Progressive muscle relaxation. It’s a Distress Tolerance skill and is intended to change your body chemistry when you are super overwhelmed. I think it’s really cool how well it works. 🙂
This Nightmare Plan is taped to my wall near my pillow so that I can see it while lying in bed.
Yay for things that work!